Law Society and SLCC clash over budget

Lorna Jack

The Law Society of Scotland and Scottish Legal Complaints Commission have clashed over the latter body’s proposed budget.

The society said that the SLCC is costing more for doing less and must address its rising inefficiency with urgency. Responding to the consultation on the SLCC’s proposed budget for 2021/22, it highlighted how complaints numbers had fallen significantly compared to three years ago.

The society argued that the average cost per complaint handled by the SLCC had risen from £1,300 when it was first formed to an expected £3,300 this year.

Law Society chief executive Lorna Jack said: “After one of the toughest of years for law firms, the SLCC’s proposed budget fails to respond to the impact which Covid-19 continues to have on the legal sector.

“We all want to see an effective and properly resourced complaints handling system. However, the SLCC’s proposed budget means it will literally be costing more for doing less; with spending higher than three years ago, despite fewer complaints. This rising inefficiency would be unacceptable at any time. In this difficult period, it is an issue the SLCC must address with urgency.

“Last year, the Law Society stepped up with a £2.2 million package of support for the solicitor profession in direct response to the Covid pandemic. The SLCC’s response then was to pursue an above inflation increase in the amount it charged. At a time when the profession was in urgent need of help, the SLCC was wrong to increase costs for firms even more.

“This year was an important opportunity for the SLCC to correct this and bring forward a significant reduction in the levy. Instead, it has chosen a cash freeze, which fails to respond to the financial and economic pressures facing the sector. This is why the budget needs to be reconsidered.”

Neil Stevenson

Neil Stevenson, CEO of the SLCC said the figure of £1,300 was one the Law Society knew to “be misleading”.

He added: “Of the 1217 complaints we received in 2008-09, 1014 (83 per cent) were passed to the Law Society to be processed under the transition arrangements, rather than the SLCC doing any work on them. For the cases we processed, the cost per case, using the Society’s method of calculation, would be double what it is now, and so tells a fundamentally different story about our efficiency now compared to then. These transition arrangement ran into the 2010-11 operating year of the SLCC.”

Mr Stevenson also said the Law Society has ignored calls to publish costs.

“The society also still had a large staff working on service complaints at that time, meaning total cost of service complaints would be even higher. When they have previously used this misleading data we’ve called on them to publish their costs for that period, so the aggregate cost of service complaints across the two bodies can be seen. They have never done that. By comparison, every year of audited data for the SLCC is published as would be the case for any modern, transparent, public interest regulator.”

He added: “We recognise the frustration of the profession at costs. However, the profession may be being let down by a professional body which would rather use misleading data to grab headlines, which then generate extra unnecessary work in rebuttal, and working with MSPs, government and other stakeholders with our published data to show why the points made are simply untrue.  It would be better to work collaboratively based on real data and evidence to look at options to improve the system for all.

“Our consultation makes clear that complaint numbers have fallen during Covid-19, and our draft budget, and the decision our board will take on a final budget later this month, will take account of the external context and the points raised in the responses we receive. It is likely, but not certain that levies could be adjusted based on changed business data during that period.”

Tags: lss, SLCC

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